- Sporty handling
- Spacious front and middle-row seats
- Smooth, honed exterior
- Cabin walks fine near-luxury line
- Firm ride, especially with 20-inch wheels
- Cargo space thin behind third-row seat
- Nav system can befuddle first-timers
The 2011 Mazda CX-9 can carry seven in comfort, but it loves curves more than almost any other roomy crossover.
With a family connection to Ford's crossovers--everything from the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX, to the bigger Flex and MKT--the Mazda CX-9 veers off into its own distinctive niche. It's comfortable for five or seven people, some younger and smaller, but it's also a touch more involving to drive than the usual big ute.
The CX-9 has been around since 2007, and last year, it received a mild touch-up. It didn't need much to please our editors: the SUV-less looks embrace a car vocabulary, all curvy and smoothed over, more like an Audi Q7 than anything else. It's not quite that nuanced, but the CX-9 delivers a lot of finesse for its size.
Performance is the CX-9's trump card. A 273-horsepower V-6 and a common-sense six-speed automatic push the crossover around with little effort and lots of refinement. Steering's pretty charming for such a large Mazda--one with all-wheel drive as an option--and the ride's not too overbearing, unless you opt into the somewhat silly 20-inch wheels.
Five adults will still be friends after a stint in the first and second rows, but you won't be putting anyone fully-grown in the third row unless they're under five feet tall. It's a bit tough to climb over the second-row seats, too, but both the back rows will fold down so the CX-9 can swallow a hundred cubic feet of stuff.
Its safety record is strong, and the CX-9 is pretty well equipped without adding cost. For navigation and other high-end features, you'll have to spend up to the Grand Touring model, but the base Sport is a good value for drivers who want a few more signs of life than the ordinary crossover can deliver.
2011 Mazda CX-9
It's nearly the opposite of the two-box crossover: the 2011 Mazda CX-9 curves where other utes fold.
If you're a fan of rounded, worry-stone-smooth shapes, the 2011 Mazda CX-9 crossover is probably your best family-car bet.
It's the polar opposite of its Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT cousins. The CX-9 hides a lot of its bulk with subtle curves and well-honed surfaces. Rakish and sporty, it's completely without off-road pretension--more like the Audi Q7 in its mission to hide its bulk while still fitting in with the smaller cars in its brand. Last year's updates were minimal, just a few more chromed touches, and thankfully, they didn't introduce some of the happy-face front-end styling that's marred cars like the Mazda3.
The CX-9’s interior remains clean and stylish, but not always easy to process. The slimness of the dash and pillars feel more like a Mazda6 sedan than a seven-passenger crossover. And despite some hard-touch surfaces, the CX-9's cockpit is the nicest, richest-looking effort Mazda has in its lineup. There's nothing minivan or SUV in the looks, and touches like piano-black trim land like grace notes--even if the secondary buttons and controls sometimes seem like too far a reach, or too small to detect on first glance.
2011 Mazda CX-9
The 2011 Mazda CX-9 reconciles its size and utility with good handling and acceleration.
There's just a single engine-transmission combo available with the 2011 Mazda CX-9, but it's a fine one, with strong acceleration and quick shifting.
The 273-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 outmuscles most of the engines in its rivals--and it doesn’t require premium fuel, unlike some of those vehicles. It's refined, almost butter-smooth at speed, and doesn't send vibration into the cabin. Could it use a little more low-end grunt? Sure, but the big six isn't slow off the line, by any means.
A smooth-shifting six-speed automatic is the only gearbox, though it can be coupled with a Haldex all-wheel-drive system. Shift quality is about the best you'll find--though the same engine in the Ford Flex comes with a turbocharging option and paddle shifters for a total of 360 hp.
The 2011 CX-9 can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Mazda's reputation for sweet handling carries over to the CX-9, the largest vehicle it's ever built. Steering feel is crisp, with good weight and a good sense of on-center feel. The independent suspension delivers responsive handling for a vehicle of its size and weight; of course, it's not so nimble as the smaller CX-7, but it's considerably taller and heftier. If there's any complaint to be lodged, it's with the big wheel-and-tire package that comes on Grand Touring models; the treads can make the CX-9's ride seem overly firm for what's really a near-luxury vehicle.
2011 Mazda CX-9
Comfort & Quality
The 2011 Mazda CX-9 has a functional, spacious interior with the right level of fit and finish.
A large crossover with some kinship to the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT, the 2011 Mazda CX-9 has spread-out space by the handful. It's a little tighter than those more boxy crossovers, but the CX-9 can seat up to seven passengers comfortably--provided you put them in the right place.
The front two rows are best for adults. The front seats have good cushion firmness, though the dash shape and seat travel might make leg room a bit tighter than in the Ford crossovers--or in something like a GMC Acadia or Chevrolet Traverse.
In the second row, it's all about comfort. Two adults will fit easily, with headroom to spare even on models outfitted with the optional moonroof. The second-row bench slides back and forth about five inches, for flexible leg room. This row's seats also are split 60/40, and they can either recline for long-haul passenger comfort, or fold flat for cargo duty.
Even though it's one of the roomiest seating packages in its class, the CX-9's third row still is a tight fit for most adult passengers, and getting in and out of that third row won't be easy. Kids won't have any problem.There isn’t a tremendous amount of space behind the third row--about 17 cubic feet--but when it's folded down, and when the second-row seats are lowered the CX-9 has more than 100 cubic feet of cargo space, big enough to bring home a 47-inch LCD television, as we've found.
The CX-9 offers a very comfortable interior. The interior fits and feels upscale, with nicely chosen and matches materials for the most part, and tight, impressive build quality.
2011 Mazda CX-9
The IIHS adores the 2011 Mazda CX-9's crash safety--except for a low rollover rating.
With the changes to ratings from both major crash-testing agencies, the Mazda CX-9's safety scores are a little less certain this year.
The CX-9 is arguably one of the safest vehicles in its class, but it's not yet been rated for the 2011 model year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The federal agency has changed how it hands out its star ratings, and as a result, many new vehicles are left unscored. We'll update this review when they publish their results.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has issued its scores, though it too has made it more difficult for vehicles to rank highly. The CX-9 gets 'good" ratings for front and side impact protection, but the IIHS says its roof-crush protection is "marginal," which means the crossover doesn't get the Top Safety Pick award.
The CX-9 comes with standard dual front, side and curtain airbags; active headrests; and anti-lock brakes, traction and electronic stability control.
A blind-spot monitoring system is standard on the Grand Touring edition, and a rear backup camera is available with that model's navigation package, but neither feature is offered on Touring or Sport models.
2011 Mazda CX-9
The 2011 Mazda CX-9 has plenty of features in Sport form--and lots of bling in Grand Touring spec.
Mazda's made very few changes to the CX-9 for the 2011 model year--the only change, in fact, is a new set of wheels.
Our favorite CX-9 is the base model, the one Mazda dubs the Sport edition. It's just a little over the $30,000 mark, but includes features like power windows, locks and mirrors; air conditioning; remote keyless entry; cruise control; a CD player; and Bluetooth. On this trim, you'll get cloth upholstery, with an option for power front seats.
The next step up the rung is the CX-9 Touring. It's fitted with all the features from the Sport, with the additions of standard leather upholstery and power front seats.
On the Grand Touring edition, the CX-9 gets 20-inch wheels, blind-spot monitors, pushbutton start, woodgrain trim, and a three-position memory driver’s seat. A navigation system bundled with a rearview camera is an option on this trim.
Once you've added options--a power sunroof, Bose audio, a power lift gate, and a rear-seat entertainment system--the CX-9 can easily pass $40,000.
2011 Mazda CX-9
EPA ratings put the 2011 Mazda CX-9 on the greener end of the crossover spectrum.
The 2011 Mazda CX-9 has good fuel economy for such a large vehicle, but the numbers won't thrill those looking for the best gas mileage around.
The EPA rates the latest CX-9 at 17/24 mpg when it's equipped with front-wheel drive. Add on the optional all-wheel-drive system, and the CX-9's numbers fall to 16/22 mpg.